Authors: J. L. Taft
Ryker is no stranger to taking on challenges—as a
firefighter, his strength and determination are tested on a weekly basis. When
his team is called to extinguish a blaze at an apartment complex, the last
thing he expects is to see a woman with flame-colored hair come dashing from
the burning building, clutching someone else’s child. But when she informs him
she doesn’t like sex, he’s more than just shocked. He’s intrigued and takes her
statement as a challenge he can’t refuse, even if it means he has to let Allie
into more than just his bed.
: This story has graphic sexual
language and scenes—no closed bedroom doors (or other rooms) here!
contemporary erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
The alarm went off, red lights flashing, and I jumped up,
instantly awake. I wasn’t the only one in a rush, sliding down the shiny pole
that dropped into the lower level of the fire station. I raced to my locker and
began pulling on my equipment.
Years of training had the group of guys ready to go in
minutes. I hopped onto the back of the cherry-red fire truck, just as the
lights and sirens cut through the night air.
The thrill of the ride never got old for me. I loved it just
as much now, if not more, than I had the first time. Speeding off into a dark
night and into certain danger was never an easy thing to do. Add to that the
times where, despite your best efforts, people perished, and it wasn’t a job
The moment might burst the second the truck stopped but I
still loved the ride there.
We turned the corner, where the tall business buildings gave
way to up-scale apartment complexes. As we sped down the street, my heart
The acidic scent of smoke hit my nose and the sky lightened
with that terrible orange glow. When the truck stopped abruptly, I leapt into
I took in the scene in once quick glance—the crowd of
people, already being pushed back by other firefighters, to the tall apartment
complex, the top levels bursting with flames.
A woman stood too close to the building, screaming that her
daughter was still inside. A couple of police officers were holding her back
and I quickly grabbed the tools I would need to go inside.
“Ryker! Ready?” Travis, a fellow fireman and friend, called
as I jogged over to him.
“Yeah, good to go,” I yelled to be heard over the commotion.
Passing the sobbing woman, we headed to the front door. A
police officer grabbed my arm and I paused.
“A woman took off inside after the kid as we were pulling
up,” he told me with a shake of his head.
“Anyone else missing?” I demanded.
“No, just the woman and a kid inside. Everyone else is
An untrained woman had to have a death wish to run into a
raging fire. The front door was open and Travis and I stared inside, assessing
our best way in. The lower levels still seemed to be intact but that could
change at any minute.
Nodding to Travis, I took a step inside and stopped dead in
my tracks. A woman with hair the color of flames came dashing toward us. In her
arms, clutched tightly to her chest, she carried a small girl with skin the
color of hot cocoa.
The woman had her head down and she was hunched over the
child, protecting as much of the little body as she could with her own. I
caught the woman in my arms as she reached us, lifting them both and carrying
them outside and to the nearest ambulance.
Their combined weight was slight and I had no trouble
getting them to help. The child’s mother met us at the ambulance, taking her
youngster who was now coughing deeply. Paramedics immediately descended on the
Light spilled from the open doors of the ambulance as I
glanced down at the woman still in my arms. She stared back at me unblinking,
her baby-blue eyes wide.
An instant of recognition nagged in the back of my mind but
Travis hollered for me right then and the moment disappeared.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
She nodded and her wide gaze had me wondering if she was in
shock. I knew one thing for sure though…she was beautiful.
“Can you stand?” I asked, raising my voice to hear over the
roar of the water hoses.
“Yes,” she croaked out, her voice rough from the smoke.
I set her on her feet, reluctant to release her. She barely
came to my shoulder and she wobbled a bit before finding her balance.
“Thank you,” she told me with a small smile before turning
The next couple hours were a blur of activity. The fire
raged and we managed to keep it contained to the one building. As the sun began
rising, we extinguished the last of the flames.
I was exhausted by the time the sun was fully up and so glad
that my shift was ending. I had a full forty-eight hours before I had to report
back to the station and it was the weekend, to boot. Taking off my hat and
heavy coat, I sat on the back bumper of the truck with Travis, taking the
offered bottle of water from him.
We watched as the other guys neatly finished rolling up the
hoses. For some reason, I couldn’t get the little red head out of my mind. I
knew I had seen her before somewhere.
The last ambulance pulled away, revealing a small form
huddled in a blanket, sitting on the curb. Her flame-colored hair was a dead
giveaway and I was headed toward her before I could think twice about it.
Crouching in front of her, I laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, are you all right?”
She lifted her head and stared intently at me before answering.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just been a long night.”
“That it has,” I told her.
She had a smudge of soot across her cheekbone, the black
making the skin underneath look incredibly pale. She seemed so lost I had to
wonder. I had seen firsthand how devastating losing all your possessions in a
house fire could be.
“Do you live here?” I asked gently, gesturing to the
uninhabitable building behind me.
“No, I live in the building next to it. They evacuated in
case the fire spread.”
That was something, at least; she wasn’t homeless. But I was
curious as to why she had dashed into a burning building.
“That was a crazy thing you did,” I said.
She just shrugged as if it was no big deal.
“Ryker! Come on, man. We’re done here,” Travis yelled.
“Hey, I’ve gotta go.” I stood and turned but I couldn’t
leave it like that. “Do you think I could take you to dinner tonight?” I asked
before I had fully processed the thought.
She sighed and looked away but I saw the disappointment on
her face as I crouched in front of her again.
“Look, whatever-your-name-is, I don’t really like sex so if
that’s what you’re after, just go away. I’m tired.”
I was a little taken aback by her words. This woman cut
right to the chase. I liked that.
“I just want a little conversation and a dinner companion.
Maybe you could explain what possessed you to dash off into a burning
building?” I cajoled, giving her a grin that usually had the ladies agreeing to
whatever I wanted.
But it didn’t affect her that way. Her eyes narrowed and her
gaze gave nothing away. I realized she saw through me and my practiced smiles.
“I’ll probably regret this but all right. You can pick me up
here at seven,” she said, pointing to the stairs that led to her building.
“Great, I’m Ryker, by the way.”
“Allie,” she replied and held out her hand for me to shake
Her delicately arched eyebrows lifted in surprise as I
raised her hand to my lips and kissed the back. Giving her a full-wattage
smile. I released her and strode to the truck.
After jumping in and closing the door, I watched her until
she was out of view. What kind of woman didn’t like sex? And was completely
okay with telling a stranger that she didn’t?
Obviously, something had happened to make her that way and I
wanted to know what. While I found her tight little body hot as hell, I wasn’t
sure I wanted to get involved and wondered what I had been thinking asking her
out in the first place. It wasn’t my usual style but lately I had been
discontent, wondering what was missing.
Travis cut across my thoughts. “Only Ryker can get a date
while putting out a fire,” he said with a chuckle.
“Fuck off, Travis,” I told him good-naturedly. Leaning back
against the seat, I closed my eyes, anxious to get home and shower off the
smell of smoke.
The guys constantly ribbed me about my female friends and I
had learned not to let it get to me. It would be way worse if they knew the
The chief was waiting for us when we got back to the
“Good job, guys. First round’s on me tonight,” he said as he
shook hands and slapped backs.
“Thanks, Chief, but I have plans tonight,” I told him as I
stowed my gear.
Travis came striding over. “What plans?”
“Mind your own damn business, Travis.”
One of the younger guys on the crew, a rookie who spent too
much time messing with his spiky blond hair-do, interrupted. “Did you really
get a date while we were working last night? Shit, man, that’s awesome!”
I rolled my eyes and turned to walk away. The rookie caught
my arm. “Dude, will you teach me?”
“Teach you what, exactly?” I asked but I already knew where
this was headed.
“To get women!”
“Forget it, kid,” I mumbled as I strode quickly to my truck,
parked across the street. I knew the guys didn’t mean anything by it but I
hated them digging into my personal life. They all saw me as a “love ‘em and
leave ‘em” kind of guy.
While it might be true to some extent, I still didn’t care
for the reference and I certainly wasn’t teaching some kid how to ‘get women’.
The kid irritated me. Just because I liked women and their
company didn’t mean I had fucked everyone I was seen with. Most, maybe, but not
all of them. I just didn’t trust them. They all wanted something. I chose to
pick the women who wanted the same things as I did.
Jumping up into the cab, I sat for a few minutes, enjoying
the stillness. It had been a long shift. There had been several medical
emergency calls and then the apartment complex fire that had taken hours.
I wondered how Allie was doing and if she should have gone
to the hospital. I shook it off. She didn’t need me to worry about her. She
looked as if she could take care of herself.
After her blunt confession that she didn’t like sex and I
wondered what the hell I had been thinking. Starting the truck, I shook my
head. I needed some sleep.
As I drove through the early morning streets, it came to me.
I remembered where I knew her from. I had seen her at Eclipse, a sex club I
liked to play at once in a while. I had gone there last weekend and she had
been there with some friends.
She had caught my eye then too. She’d had on a dark-green
dress and sky-high heels, but it had been that curly, fire-colored hair that
had drawn me in, over and over. I had watched her all night and she had seemed
to be completely out of her element and had never talked to any one man for
more than a few minutes. I spent so much time paying attention to her I ended
up going home alone and unsatisfied.
What the hell had she been doing at Eclipse? In any case, I
had a feeling the dinner date would be interesting.
I felt refreshed after a few hours of sleep. I was used to
working and being awake at odd hours, so waking up late into the afternoon was
normal for me. But it didn’t leave me much time to get around before I picked
Taking a hot shower, I was surprised to find I was looking
forward to the evening. It had been a long time since I was this excited over a
woman. I didn’t like complications and always chose women who knew the score.
I also liked to be in charge of the situation, which is why
I frequented Eclipse. Some of the women there were sexually submissive and it
was an easy place to meet someone who liked the same things I did.
Allie was exactly the opposite. But something about her got
to me. As her face popped to mind and I thought about her tight little body, my
cock sprang to life and I groaned.
Since I was going out with a woman who claimed not to like
sex, I fisted my cock and jerked on it until I came in quick little bursts. I
stood under the water, breathing heavily.
I kept my hair cut short, so I only had to run a comb
through it. A few short minutes later, I’d dried off and gotten dressed. I had
called and made reservations at my favorite Italian place, so I’d put on slacks
and a light-blue button-up shirt that matched my eyes—or so my mother had told
Knowing the restaurant was casual and it was warm enough to
skip the jacket, I had the cuffs rolled halfway up my forearms before I hit the
I drove to Allie’s place and made it with only minutes to
spare, but I wasn’t late. She was already waiting for me outside the upscale
apartment complex. I couldn’t help but take a long look at the black, bare
bones of what was left of the building next door. I felt a quick surge of
satisfaction, knowing that even though the building was gone, no lives had been
I pushed all thoughts of work and its dangers from my mind,
as only someone with experience could do. I hopped from the truck and made my
way to Allie with a smile on my face. I didn’t let my emotions rule me, never
let them take control of my actions, which was why I was still a little
perplexed over my decision to ask her out.
But it was the first time I had seen her in the bright light
of day, and she took my breath away, everything else fading into the background.
She wore a pale-spring-green dress that clung to her curves and made her blue
eyes intensely bright.
I was glad she had left her hair mostly down, with the top
half of it pulled back from her face. She smiled at me when I continued to
stare, making me feel as if I should have brought her flowers or something.
Damn, she was sexy and just the right size for me to toss
about easily in bed. I had a quick vision of those legs over my shoulders as I
lowered my face between her thighs…
Shaking off my naughty thoughts, I was surprised to feel
heat climb up my neck under her steady gaze. I took the last few steps and
couldn’t resist kissing her cheek. She smelled great, something delicate and
flowery, and I sucked in a deep breath.
“Hi, Allie, you look great,” I told her as I grabbed her
hand and led her to the truck.
“Thank you. How are you, Ryker?” she asked as I opened the
passenger door for her.
If she wanted to play it polite, then I could do that. I
helped her into the seat, unable to keep my eyes from the perfect roundness of
After closing the door, I jogged around the front and
“I’m good, Allie. How are you? Any lasting effects from the
smoke inhalation last night?” I still thought she should have gone to the
“No, I’m fine. I wasn’t in there long,” she replied while
sneaking glances at me from under her lashes. Her voice had lost the roughness
of the previous night.
I wondered if she remembered seeing me at Eclipse. If she
did, I wasn’t entirely sure that would be a good thing.
It took us mere minutes to drive to the restaurant and I
pulled the truck to a halt and turned to face her. I couldn’t get the image of
her dashing through that building surrounded in flames out of my head.
“That was a completely crazy thing to do. You realize you
could have died in there, right?”
“I know,” she replied with a sigh, “I didn’t think about the
consequences when I heard Yolanda yelling about her little girl still being in
there. Help wasn’t there yet, so I just went. I knew which apartment she was in
and it was on the ground level.” Her voice trailed off at the end and I knew
she was reliving it.
“Hey,” I murmured as I reached for her hand. I knew how
terrifying it could be.
She didn’t pull away from me and slowly lifted her gaze to
mine. The thought of her being caught in that burning building had a cold chill
running down my back and made my voice come out gruffer than I intended.
“Don’t. Ever. Do. That. Again.”
I had seen too much to simply let it go but as I watched her
eyes widen I figured I may have crossed the line by being an overbearing
asshole and our date might be over before it really started.
She stared for long seconds then finally smirked at me. “All
right, Ryker. Since you asked so nicely, I promise never to run into a burning
I chuckled and gave her hand a squeeze before jumping from
the truck. I wasn’t sure what to say to her now that she had seen through me so
clearly. I was usually pretty good at hiding my emotions. I had been called an
unfeeling bastard by more than one woman.
I jogged around the truck and opened her door and she held
her hand out for me to help her down. I bypassed her hand and circled her
waist, lifting her to the ground easily.
Once she had both feet on the pavement, I should have
released her. But her blue gaze caught mine and I had the sudden urge to kiss
her. Her fingers dug into my forearms and her lips parted.
Smiling, I grabbed her hand and tugged her into the
restaurant. At least she wasn’t completely immune to me.
I was greeted by name by a young server and shown to the
back corner where there were several booths sectioned off with tall greenery,
artistically separated from the rest of the large room. We would have plenty of
privacy without us being alone.
I had a feeling that some of our conversation shouldn’t be
overheard because I had questions for the woman still holding my hand.
After we were settled and had ordered the wine and main
course, I found myself staring. The brighter light of the hanging lamps
overhead lit up her big blue eyes. There were gold-colored highlights in her
hair and I itched to get my fingers in it. She was gorgeous.
“What is it?” she finally asked, nervously running her
fingers up and down the stem of her wine glass. I usually wasn’t so obvious but
she’d caught me off guard. Again.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help the staring. You’re a very beautiful
Rolling her eyes, she took a healthy sip from her glass. Not
a reaction I was accustomed to having but I liked that she did the unexpected.
“Why did you invite me out tonight, Ryker?” she asked.
“I’ll make a deal with you—answer a question for me and then
I’ll answer yours.”
“All right, that’s fair enough.”
Her answer surprised me. She might be small but she wasn’t
frightened easily. I imagined some of my lady friends would have burst into
tears when I made my demand in the truck, or they would have been pissed but
Allie just took it in stride. I had a feeling her soft, curvy outside hid a
backbone of steel.
The server came with our breadbasket and salads, halting our
Once we were alone again I asked, “Why don’t you like sex,
She sighed and set back down her fork. “Would you mind
answering my question first?”
I couldn’t see why it made a difference but I could go with
it. “All right. I asked you out because, regardless if you believe me or not,
you are beautiful. But after your dash into that building and your
matter-of-fact statement that you don’t like sex I couldn’t help being
“So you asked me out because I’m strange enough to make you
curious?” she asked, her brow wrinkling in obvious confusion. Her expression
was kinda cute.
“Not exactly. For the first time, I’ve found myself wanting
to get to know someone instead of just having a night of mutual pleasure.” It
was as honest as I could be.
“How can you be sure the pleasure is mutual?” she fired back
“Believe me, babe, I know. It’s always mutual,” I uttered,
lowering my voice to make sure we weren’t overheard. She’d attempted a direct
hit at my manhood but I wasn’t offended.
I watched as her cheeks went pink and her lips parted as she
licked them. My slacks tightened and I shifted slightly.
“Your turn,” I prodded gently.
Damn, there was something between us that was gaining in
intensity every second she was near. It was really powerful and we were only on
the salads. I took a sip of wine and stared at her over the rim of my glass.
“I’m not sure why you’re so curious about it but I just
“There must be a reason,” I urged. Her dislike of sex could
be caused by any number of things and I wanted to know why she felt that way.
Even if I didn’t want to look too closely at
I wanted to know so
“I guess, if I’m being truthful,” she began, “I just find it
“Disappointing how?” I asked. If she was into the things
that happened at Eclipse, I couldn’t imagine every experience to be that much
of a letdown. Most of the men there prided themselves on taking their women to
amazing heights. But I had only seen her there once and she hadn’t hooked up
with anyone. I knew I had to tell her I had seen her there. I had a feeling
she’d view that omission as a lie.
She took a nibble of breadstick, chewed slowly and then
said, “The whole idea of spending time with someone, going on awkward dates,
not having sex until you know him better…all that stuff is a waste of time. The
men I’ve come across have been selfish, expecting me to give them everything
and while they give nothing back in return,” she told me quietly.
I took a moment to think about what she said. True, dates could
get awkward and every man had a different expectation. But I was still somewhat
“What do you mean, you get nothing in return?” I asked.
The server appeared beside the table with our dinners,
momentarily stopping our conversation. We ate in silence for a few minutes
before I couldn’t stand it anymore. Dying with curiosity, I wanted details.
She sighed and leaned forward in her chair and I did the
same, bringing our faces closer.
“Is this conversation going to stay between us?” she asked.
“The last thing I need is to be the brunt of all the jokes at the fire
I reached for her hand and her gaze lifted to mine. I felt
the jolt of our gazes clashing sizzle down into the pit of my stomach.
“Of course, everything stays between us. The guys do like to
joke around but they’re harmless and I don’t tell them everything,” I replied.
Her eyebrows came together and a couple pearly teeth came
down to chew on her pink lip. I knew she was deciding whether or not to trust
me—I was already starting to learn her facial expressions.
I wondered who had betrayed this woman so badly that she
wouldn’t open up to anyone. Her reticence reminded me of myself.
Still she hesitated and I reached for her hand, giving it a
“I’ve never…” she began quietly, glancing around us, “you
know, finished with a man.”